Sexton-Oehser quick thoughts: Jaguars-Colts 

Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette (27) listens to the national anthem before kick-off against the Houston Texans in an NFL game, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019 in London. (Rick Wilson via AP)
Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette (27) listens to the national anthem before kick-off against the Houston Texans in an NFL game, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019 in London. (Rick Wilson via AP)

JACKSONVILLE -- Senior writer John Oehser and senior Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars as they prepare to play the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis Sunday…

Oehser …

1.An 0-0 feel with a must-win twist. This is a weird week around the Jaguars, one with two very different feelings. The first is a very real feeling that the season is just beginning. Quarterback Nick Foles is healthy for the first time since sustaining a broken clavicle 11 plays into the regular-season opener, so Sunday could be the first full game for this offense as it was meant to look. Foles should help the line, running back Leonard Fournette and the wide receiver corps – and the result could be an efficient, confident unit. In that sense, this feels like an 0-0 team – with the accompanying optimism and hope. At the same time, there’s also the reality that Sunday is a must-win game, which means that hope either will grow or disappear based on what happens Sunday. Bottom line: Foles’ return could spur this team to special things, but the Jaguars must win Sunday to have a chance to make that happen.

2.The linebacker corps got a big-time bye-week boost. The Jaguars’ linebackers were perhaps the team’s most inconsistent position group throughout the first half of the season. The unit was very good while stifling the run offenses of Cincinnati and New York Jets, but it struggled in other games – most notably when the Jaguars allowed 285 yards rushing at Carolina. Injuries contributed to the inconsistency, and the group got healthy over the bye with veteran Jake Ryan (knee) returning to practice while remaining on the reserve/non-football injury list and with weak-side linebacker Quincy Williams and strong-side linebacker Leon Jacobs recovering from the hamstring injuries that kept them out in the weeks before the bye. Myles Jack was the lone Jaguars linebacker available for each of the first nine games and did an admirable job keeping a young, inexperienced group together. A deeper, healthier group now must be more consistent against the run for this team to push for the postseason.

3.Health is critical at wide receiver. Staying injury-free is critical to any NFL team at all positions, but the thought here is the Jaguars are particularly vulnerable at the skill positions. While rookie Gardner Minshew II proved a capable backup to Foles during eight games starting, any significant injuries at other skill positions would be difficult to overcome. While rookie Ryquell Armstead has shown flashes of productivity, any injury that sidelined running back Leonard Fournette could be catastrophic to a running attack that provided big plays through the first nine games. Wide receiver has a similar feel. The front-line foursome of DJ Chark Jr., Chris Conley, Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole consistently produced through nine games. But with Westbrook out against the Texans in Week 9, the passing game felt low on options and the Texans stifled outside receivers with double-teams and safety help over the top. With tight end unproductive since James O’Shaughnessy’s season-ending knee injury in Week 5, and with wide receiver Marqise Lee (shoulder) out for the season, Foles and the passing offense need Chark, Conley, Cole and Westbrook available moving forward.

Sexton …

1.It’s put-up-or-shut-up time for these Jaguars. The Jaguars didn’t play like a playoff team against the Texans in London; in fact, they played like they belonged in the conversation about next year’s draft with teams such as the Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets. Now, their quarterback – Foles – is back. They’re as healthy as they’ve been since training camp ended, and they have back-to-back road games against teams ahead of them in the AFC South and playoff standings. Both games are winnable if the Jaguars play to their potential; both are losable if they play like those Jaguars in London two weeks ago. So, what’s it going to be? Will these Jaguars thrust themselves into the playoff conversation? Just to be in the mix in late November and into December would be a huge lift for Jacksonville and the fan base, especially after losing Foles in Week 1 – and considering the Jalen Ramsey drama. I don’t want to say scoreboard watching in December is enough. I’d like to see this team playing into January. But if we can at least talk about the playoffs all the way to Week 17, it’s something to build on for 2020.

2.Fournette is the key to a successful second half of the season. He has been tremendous so far; really, he has been the story of 2019 – though it has been lost amid the Foles/Minshew and Ramsey stories.  Fournette starts the final seven-game stretch third in the AFC with 831 rushing yards and third in the NFL with 1,126 yards from scrimmage. He’s averaging 4.8 punishing yards per carry and hasn’t even appeared on the injury report through nine games, the latter of which I didn’t think was possible considering his aggressive style of play. He’s poised to benefit greatly from Foles’ return, which should back defenders off the line of scrimmage and create more running room. If he can be a factor – and he wasn’t against Houston in London – these Jaguars will be in every game and in position for a wild-card berth in late December. Everyone else will have a part to play, but Fournette is the barometer for how deep into the playoff chase this team can go.

3.Josh Allen will make a run of his own over the second half of the season. Allen is tied for first among all rookies with seven sacks through nine games. He’s an absolute stud on the edge – big and long enough to anchor in against the run, and incredibly athletic rushing the passer. And to listen to folks who know, he’s still just figuring out how to get to the quarterback. He’s a lock to set the Jaguars’ rookie sacks record, which is at eight; I think he will easily get past 12. The NFL’s rookie sack mark is 14.5, which was set by Jevon Kearse with the Tennessee Titans in an epic 1999 season. I think Allen can get there – and at the very least, I think we’ll be tracking how close he gets to that mark as the season winds down. The Jaguars were fortunate that the Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants passed on Allen last April. He’s going to become a household name before Christmas and might be in Orlando in late January at the Pro Bowl.

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